Chapter 21 – Homecoming (1)

Homecoming – Part 1

      I’m surrounded by dozens of people all looking down at me.

      I stand up on weary feet and stumble away from the crowd. The sun shines with a brightness I haven’t known in what seems like lifetimes. The world is so loud and all around me things zip by at unbelievable speeds. The crowd doesn’t bother to follow me and I’m glad. It’s not a good feeling to have a crowd watch as you vomit up your entire night’s meal.

      I wrench until nothing else comes and take a seat under a tree to rest my head against something. I didn’t get to say ‘goodbye’ to them. That alone breaks my heart. But there are no more tears to fall, and no more energy to try. My eyes fall shut.

      I stir from sleep with a hand running through my hair. It feels so comforting that I can’t help but reach out and bring it to my lips. The softness relaxes my lips into a smile.

      “You wouldn’t believe the dream I had.” Through still shut eyes, I explain the events I remember of last night to whoever’s lap my head is on.

     “Well, that certainly explains quite a few things then. Seems I’ve missed a lot.” The voice is higher pitched than I’m used to.

      I open my eyes curiously and pure white eyes look down on me. My heart beats hurriedly and I jump up with a startled yelp.

      “Holy crap. Gee. What are you doing?”

      “Missed you too baby.”

      She slides up next to me. Her skin against mine feels… normal? What? I scan the immediate area. The smell of the forest hits me. Except it’s no forest. Just beyond the trees, green ones at that, I can see cars zipping by.

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      The silence hits me next. Or rather, the lack of it. Every second ticks by with its own harmony.

      “Oh. I’m home.”

      “That’s it? You’ve spent how long in Arsea trying to get back home?”

      I can’t help but give her a sidelong glance.

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      “But then, how are you here?”

      I pull up my left hand and notice the once lustrous ring now pulsing a dull shade. But Gee just shrugs her shoulders.

      “I was asleep. When I woke up, you looked so pitiful that I absolutely had to offer you a proper pillow.”

      “Sure. I’m certain it had nothing to do with you being a pervert.”

      Her eyes give a little sparkle.

      “Wasn’t a compliment,” I complain.

      “But what do you mean asleep? How would that bring you here?”

      Gee once again looks around.

      “Indeed. But I was sleeping in your shadow so I guess I tagged along. How interesting; today I learned.”

      “This is no laughing matter Gee.”

      “You’re home. And if that blessing wasn’t enough, you brought Best Wife with you. Everyone wins.”

      I can’t help but facepalm. “You’re so simple Gee.” She answers me with a almost-shy smile.

      “You won’t fit in with your eyes like that Gee.”

      “Hm. Then how about this.” She slides her hand over her pretty face and her eyes change into a pretty red.

      “Well, it should work. But it’s it’s still a bit much. More importantly, you still have your magik here?”

      With a “Hmmm” she flicks her fingers and a tiny shadow starts to form into a little person on her finger, and then dances. I can’t help but laugh at how adorable it is.

      “I had no idea you could do something like that!” I say through giggles.

      “There’s plenty about me you don’t know, Zero.” She gives me a coy wink then reaches up and rubs my cheek. Weird… no shock like usual.

      “Zero?” I shake my head.

      “Let’s go. I have to get home and I can’t very well just leave you can I?”

      I stand up. Gee cocks her head in a rare moment of ‘cute’ and then takes my hand. Together we start the trek home.

      Well, I call it a trek but truth be told, we ended up in my city. What are the odds of that? The noise is deafening as we move through the people. It’s streets are familiar, but the rest- foreign. Sounds I would have ignored in the past, ring through me now. And the people, the people!

      Everywhere I look there’s people. The shear volume of humans around me makes my world feel claustrophobic and tight. To think of these differences from here and Arsea, the sparsity of Arsea’s populace compared to my world was hardly noticeable. Perhaps I never truly felt it because my world shrank, yet my world grew. Here and now, returning to what came before, the world is suddenly large.

      I have to bob and weave through people, careful to keep in mind taboos I had all but forgotten. To my surprise, Gee has little issue with maneuvering around everyone. But perhaps that makes sense, she’s used to avoiding others. A few miles later, my house comes into view.

      “This is it,” I tell Gee. She gives a small whistle.

      “Nothing like the other places around here,huh?”

      Her comment causes a small pang of pride to well up in me. But I push it down, and approach the entrance.

      When I sit my arm against the panel, my heart starts to beat wildly. Insane thoughts start popping into my mind out of paranoia. Like, what if the bio-scans don’t pick up on me? I would be devastated. That would mean I truly did change. However, what if they do pick up on me. Then how would I justify my actions in that other world? Could I really blame who I was then, with who I am now, on the Zeroth alone? But my thoughts are cut short as the door opens, with my hand hanging in mid air.

      I look up and up to meet my grandfather’s face- lit with a shock beyond my wildest dreams. This man is a hulk, even if he is sweet on the inside- a lifetime of being the biggest, meanest, strongest man alive hardly taught him to show surprise. Yet here it is.

      Tears drip down his face like a geyser. My head feels light as I stare at him. I have a million things I wanna say to him. I had never spent more than a week away from my grandpa before. And here I am, returning over a year later. Surely there’s a billion things I could say now. But one above all the rest floats to my mind, out my throat, hangs on my lips, and passes into the air between us.

      “I’m home, Grandpa.”

      That seemed to be the exact right thing, at the exact right time. I truly believe there are only a handful of times in life you have the chance to have a perfect moment; and for me, this is it. Like a mountain embracing the land below, Grandpa slams himself into me and embraces me in a way that makes my heart melt. His love was absolute, and forlorn. But just beneath it, sadness mixes with elation as his tears fall like twinkling stars.

      And really, what better ending could I have asked for? I traveled from my world to another. I had an adventure, sort of. Nothing truly world defining happened. I met some people and enjoyed my time with them. Hell, perhaps I even developed some crushes in my stay in Arsea. But this is it. This is the world redefining itself back to the ways of old.

      This momentary lapse of the fate’s time was but a trifling matter, one to let us know what we’re missing out on in the end. But with my grandfather here in my arms, our tears mix and the world rights itself. This is my ending, and this is how its come.

      Someone clears their throat behind us. I jump, having forgotten about my guest.

      So, maybe this isn’t how it all ends. Maybe there is just a bit more to do.

      Grandpa releases me and while wiping his tears, turns to Gee. His gaze hardens and becomes hateful.

     “And you are?” He asks in a seething rage.

      “This is Gee, Grandpa. She, um, will have to stay with us for the time being.”

      He looks over at me, “You’ve been gone for six months, haven’t sent even a single message to me, and now you just return with a random woman and I’m suppose to be ok with it?” I give him a wry smile. Wait.

      “Six months?!”

     “Yes?” confusion pours from him. I turn to Gee but she simply shrugs.

      That’s not right, I’ve been gone for well over a year. What in the world?

      “Eve,” he slides a hulking hand around my cheek, and uses his fingers to raise my head. His hard eyes study me intently. I feel like he’s seeing right through me. “Come inside.” With that, he turns and walks away, leaving me dumbfounded.

     I recover, and give Gee a nod to the house. Together, we enter.

      It’s exactly like I remember. The walls are a beige color framed by wood. The tiles of the floor are board and smooth. The lighting is dim as we follow the man who raised me through the house.

      I don’t understand why, but I feel like Rei would have liked it here. She’s always so serious and proper. She’d get along with Grandpa.

      A pang of loneliness hits me. I miss her. Now that I think about it, even the residual pounding in my head is gone now. So, even my ever-constant companion is gone. And I miss her all the more for it.

      We pass by the dojo room and nostalgia pecks at me. I look toward grandpa’s back. He looks lonely- matching our empty dojo. The only visitors it had were grandpa, daily, and me, when I actually showed up. But now it’s empty.

      When we arrive to the living room grandpa sits at the table and offers us a chair each, and coffee. We both take it, but Gee’s nose scrunches at the taste. Grandpa pays it no mind and locks his steely gaze on me.

      “So, where have you been Eve? Even the police got involved. A missing persons case hasn’t popped up in over a decade. Everyone thought you were dead.” His voice cracked midway through.

      “No Grandpa, I wasn’t missing I was just…” I couldn’t finish my sentence. What do I tell him? The truth? Impossible.

      “She’s returned and is no worse for wear. She was with friends. Isn’t that good enough?” Gee cuts in, causing us both to look at her.

      “This isn’t your business, girl.” He retorts in an uncharacteristically cruel way.

      I glare at him. “Grandpa!

      He crumbles slightly and rubs his bald head. “I thought I lost my child. You will have to excuse my attitude towards this… stranger.”

      “She isn’t a stranger Grandpa. It’s only thanks to her and the others that I even managed to return!” This earns me a strange look from him. He looks over at Gee then back to me.

      “I’ll cook you something to eat. Please take this chance to come up with what you’re going to tell me.” With those parting words, he’s gone.

      I lean back in my chair with a sigh. Gee takes the chance to come over and rub my shoulders. It feels divine.

      Out of habit, I bring her hand to my lips and kiss her knuckles. She lets out a small laugh and returns to my massage. But it’s no laughing matter. I didn’t feel the urge to do that. I did it because that’s what I would have done with the others.

      I have to be more on guard. Even without the Zeroth’s influence, that world still drove certain things into me. But it’s time to let that world go.

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